King of Spades: Rubbernecking



Mucked at my elbows from my time in the fetal position after those seizures, I headed back to camp letting the hound lead since she was bright enough to find the trail.


We struck camp. I pulled the poles from the nylon sheaths and she helped by pouncing on the inflated tent and chasing spiders that crawled from the door. I rolled up the tent, the fly, and the tarp to shove in the bag but Pickles kept pulling it off and wearing it as a loose muzzle. I staked down her leash and finished packing. I tucked the parchment from the old lady in my pocket.


We got home around dusk. Molly was there. “Why weren’t you at work? Why didn’t you tell me you wouldn’t be there? Why do you smell?”


I tossed my backpack by my mother’s stone doves as I always did and went to the laundry room.


Pickles showed Molly how much she had missed her with kisses and crotch sniffs despite Molly’s protests, shouts, and even magazine-slaps. “You went camping again? Did the day at work stress you so much that you had to call in for a mental health day? Like you have it tough. You sit in your office most of the summer encouraging brats to come by for sleazy ‘private lessons.’”


I stripped off my pants and shirt and tossed them in the wash with already wet clothes and turned it on for another cycle, dumping in the rest of the detergent, just enough to kill yourself if you drank it.


“You’re soiling my clothes! I just did the wash this afternoon and now they’ll come out muddy.”


At the kitchen sink I washed the layer of dirt that stiffened my face, sealing my mouth. “Then you should’ve taken them out sooner.” I lay the parchment on the dinner table but it wanted to fold at the creases so I pinned each corner with a Coke can. I’d drain each before the night was up.


“An antique map?” Molly asked. She leaned over my shoulder and put her hand on the filthy paper but I knocked it away. “It’s too small. You can’t hang it on the wall and expect anyone to see it at that size. And what jerk folded it? The creases ruin its value. It doesn’t even fit with the décor of this place. Unless you’re redecorating. Please be redecorating! Your parents’ taste was fine for their time and age, but it’s not right for now. You need a vintage feel, the 80s or 50s. You can’t pull off the 60s or 70s though.”


The map was of the world but there was more land than water. The Pacific was the size of Lake Michigan on a US map yet rivers were as thick as a fat Sharpie and the Mediterranean took up the entire center. The countries had no borders and it took some figuring to decide where was Europe and where was Africa (South Africa was in the East); they ran together after rotating around the Jerusalem. There were dots for cities but no names. And the paper was brown and yellow from age, except for four points: a red diamond, a red heart, a black club, and a black spade – like on playing cards. It predated modern maps like the Winkel tripel projection or Mercator. It reminded me of a map I saw in Wales years back, an ancient one displayed in a cathedral.


I rushed to the basement for the scrapbooks my parents had made of my Wales photographs. There were about 2000 7” x 5” photos and so I had a bookcase full of memories that I forgot about. Each was labeled on the spine by location. I pulled those that said “Cathedral” but we had visited 20.


“What’s going on?” Molly asked and touched my shoulder with a concerned hand.


I was naked, covered only by my underpants and the spade, with photos spread around the concrete floor. “Look for a map. It’s circular. On the back it’ll say ‘Map of…’ something. Map of, map of, mappof, mappa….”


She sat among the photos, tucking her skirt beneath her rump. “Wales is a beautiful country. So green! And I thought there was always fog. Are these mountains crumbling? Why’s the rock purple? It’s beautiful, but why’s it purple? You should put these around the house. Frame them or something. They’re a better look than that antique map. You should try to get your money back. It’s folded anyway so the value’s wrecked. Why are these sheep painted blue? And these are red? It’s only a glob on their back.”


“MAPPA MUNDI!” I exclaimed.


I ran upstairs, stepping on old memories to compare the 7” x 5” snapshot of the Mappa Mundi replica to this antique map a bony hand had given me.


The Hereford Mappa Mundi had medieval names and cartoons of camels and mermaids and whatever else signified that nation to the cartographer. I examined them with a magnifying glass. The basic outline was the same as my map, but the one in Hereford was missing a chunk of the world. If shrunk and aligned to my map, the photo only covered about 1/3 of the disfigured world. The spade was to the very left of the world, in America, which medieval cartographers were ignorant of. The three islands of England was in the bottom left according to Hereford. And on my map, the British Isles just above America with about an inch between New York and London. And about two inches between my spade and the red heart, which was out in the British wilderness near wolves. England didn’t have wolves anymore.


“What’s going on, Leo?” She sat at the table with me but on the other side. When my parents had died and I inherited the place, Molly suggested taking leaves from the table because it was designed to fit six comfortably and about ten on Thanksgiving when everyone was uncomfortable anyway. If we had removed two, it’d be cozy even if I brought a couple guests over. But I had refused to change anything. So she sat opposite of me, about ten feet away.




“You get a tattoo, flee the city for a simpler life in a cave, and then rush back to look at an old ugly map and a picture of an old ugly map. Something’s going on.”


“It’s nothing. Just fantasy. Research.”


“Are you writing? Don’t go through that again.”


I tried placing other landmarks on my map using the Hereford Mappa Mundi. My eye was magnified when I looked at Molly. I was smiling now that I had a clue.


“It made you miserable.”


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